A massive and blinding sandstorm in China this past weekend engulfed the region in towering rust-colored clouds of sand that darkened skies from westernmost Xinjiang province to Taiwan, including Beijing where China's National Weather Bureau issued a rare 'hazardous level' air quality warning. Throughout the region people are being instructed to cover their mouths when outside and keep doors and windows closed while inside.
The extreme and early season sandstorm is the strongest in years and is a gritty reminder that China's expanding deserts, now covering one-third of the country because of overgrazing, deforestation, urban sprawl and drought, have led to a sharp increase in the storms.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences has estimated that the number of sandstorms has jumped by six times in the past 50 years to two dozen a year. Such sandstorms can affect the weather globally and grit from these storms in particular can travel as far as the western United States.